Learning a new instrument can be challenging, and guitar is certainly no exception. You may find yourself struggling with building your calluses or reaching certain chords, but don’t worry – you’re not alone! Here are 5 things that can challenge the beginner guitar player, and simple strategies you can use to improve.
1. Building calluses
New to the guitar? Calluses might seem like your worst nightmare, but building them up will help you fret the strings easier and produce a clear, even tone each time you play. It might take a while, but trust us, it’s worth it!
What to try: Try using lighter gauge guitar strings at first. If you prefer the sound of heavier strings, you can work your way up to this type, but in general the lighter nylon strings are more comfortable for beginners. Remember that you won’t build guitar calluses overnight, so consistent practice is key. Some guitarists also swear by soaking the fingertips in rubbing alcohol to speed up the process.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most beginners press down too hard to begin with. Try relaxing your fingers and experiment with the pressure. The string should hit the fret evenly, but you don’t need a death grip!
2. Finger coordination
Dexterity, coordination and also finger strength are all integral to creating a beautiful sound – and also killer licks and solos! But sometimes, those individual fingers just don’t want to cooperate. It can be even harder for guitarists with small hands, but there are several exercises you can do to improve.
What to try: First of all, relax! If you’re so focused on your finger coordination, you’ll just end up stressing yourself out. Start slowly, and try practicing with a metronome to work on your accuracy. You can also start each practice session with specific exercises to get your fingers warmed up and loose. For example, try starting with a chromatic scale in the first position, but switch it up a bit. Start on the 6th string and then jump to the 1st string, followed by the 5th, and then the 2nd to 4th and then 3rd. You can also alternate the pattern by moving upward on the 6th and then descend on the 5th, followed by ascending again on the 4th and so on in that pattern.
3. Keeping time
Sometimes tapping your foot or counting in your head while playing can feel a lot like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. It’s not always easy! With practice, though, your “internal metronome” will improve. Developing that sense of rhythm is essential for guitar players.
What to try: Keep that metronome out, even after you’ve done your warm-up exercises! Use it when practicing strumming patterns – for example, try setting it at a comfortable tempo (60-80 beats per minute) and play a downstroke on each beat. Increase the tempo a bit, and then switch it up by playing on every other beat, or other patterns such as triplets. Add this to your practice routine every day until you can keep the rhythm steady without the metronome.
4. Memorizing guitar chords
There are literally thousands of guitar chord combinations out there, so it can be pretty daunting for the beginner guitar player. But don’t fret – you don’t need to learn all of them right away.
What to try: Start simple! Even just memorizing these 5 easy guitar chords can give you loads of songs to play. A great place to start is with the 12 major chords and 12 minor chords.
Beyond that, there are a lot of possible strategies for helping you memorize the chords, depending on your learning style. If you’re a visual learner, make chord chart flashcards, and review them throughout the day. Kinesthetic learner? Close your eyes and play a few chords, consciously making the association between the name of the chord and where your fingers are placed. Practice, practice, practice – eventually your muscle memory will take over.
5. Staying motivated
Do you find yourself coming up with excuses for why you can’t practice? You, my friend, might be burnt out. It’s a common thing for beginners, especially if you started playing the guitar with unreasonable expectations.
What to try: If you find your motivation levels dwindling, consider switching up your repertoire, taking a break for a day, listening to different styles of music, reevaluating your goals, or shortening your practice sessions into smaller, more manageable chunks. Let your guitar teacher know, and he or she may be able to find the right solution to bring that excitement back.
All of these issues are common for beginners, but keep in mind you won’t solve them overnight. Being an accomplished guitar player will take time, and your commitment to practicing regularly will make a big impact. Keep at it!
– Suzy S., TakeLessons staff member and blogger
Photo by Rachel Hoefling.